North Korean authorities restrict electric bike usage in some areas due to concerns over power supply

Pyongyangites with electric bikes and scooters. Image: Pyongyang Press Corps Pool

The North Korean authorities in some areas of the country are cracking down on people who are riding electric bicycles without a permit. The authorities appear to be restricting their use as part of broader efforts to limit electricity usage.

“The government has told us since last year not to ride electric bicycles in the Tokchon area without a permit. They seem to be cracking down on electric bicycles because the country has no electricity [to spare],” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on October 22.

“People are siphoning off electricity from local enterprises. The authorities seem to have taken notice of this and are cracking down. Most people have solar panels on their houses, but the panels don’t provide enough energy to recharge their electric bikes on a daily basis.”

North Koreans have long given bribes to factory managers in return for electricity to recharge their electric bikes. As the bikes have gained in popularity, however, there has been a drastic increase in the demand for electricity. Concerned about the shortages, the authorities appear to be responding with restrictions on the use of the bikes.

“You have to obtain a permit to ride an electric bike, but these permits are not given out that easily,” said an additional source in South Pyongan Province. “You have to pay 30,000 North Korean won for the permit, and another 3,000 North Korean won if you want the permit quickly.”

She added that the authorities are “telling people who can walk on foot not to use the bikes because they are only for the elderly and honorably discharged soldiers” and that “[The authorities] will even confiscate the bikes in extreme cases.”

Electric bikes in North Korea cost around 500-600,000 KPW, with more expensive models going for 5-6 million KPW. Those who have paid such high prices for the bikes, only to have them restricted, are unlikely to be happy with recent developments.

Sources in another region of North Korea, however, told Daily NK that the local authorities have not restricted the use of electric bikes in their area, suggesting that the crackdown is not being conducted nationwide.

“I haven’t heard anything about electric bike riders having trouble with the authorities due to the electricity situation,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source.

“I haven’t heard anything about bike permits being an issue, either – at least in Hyesan, although other areas might be in a different situation,” the source said. 

An additional source in Ryanggang Province confirmed that he had also not heard any power supply-related crackdowns on bikes or trouble with bike permits in his region.

South Korean reporters visiting Pyongyang for the recent inter-Korean summit in September managed to take some photos of North Koreans riding electric bikes.

Pyongyang resident with an electric bike. Image: Pyongyang Press Corps Pool

Tokchon is a medium-sized city in South Pyongan Province with a population of around 210,000. The city has long suffered from a chronic shortage of electricity.

“For a total of 30,000 KPW per month – 20,000 KPW to factory managers and another 10,000 KPW to the people managing the electricity – people can recharge their bikes,” said the initial South Pyongan-based source. “We use electricity siphoned off from the [local] enterprise for our house. There is no set time that the electricity is provided. When the factory receives electricity, we do too.”

“The local mine receives around 20 hours of electricity, but the city [of Tokchon] gets none, she said.

“The only places that get electricity are the border regions and big cities like Pyongyang, but places like ours [Tokchon] don’t produce [any products], so we don’t get electricity.”